Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Reflections of a Scientist

Henry Eyring is a prize-winning theoretical chemist and member of the church. I need to bring up the last part of his book, Reflections of a Scientist. When I read it, I was overcome by its sensibility and honesty, and I really connected to his feelings and ideas about the church.

He explained that:

I could leave the Church and abandon its teachings if I could figure out some way to do so honorably and consistent with my desire to know the truth, no matter what the source. I find myself unable to build out of my experience an acceptable case for disbelief. In fact, the case favors belief. It goes something like this:
     1.The physical universe exhibits striking characteristics: the complexity of the nucleus, the exactness of the atom, the unity of life, the predictability of the everyday world, and the enormity and longevity of space.
     2. Not only is the universe complex, exact, orderly, and predictable, but it is also running down. The second law of thermodynamics indicates that since a closed system can only run down and can never get wound up in the first place, either there are some exceptions to these natural laws we don't know about or the physical universe is not a closed system. That is, there is something or someplace outside the physical world from which energy was obtained to fire the "big bang."
     3. The combination of intelligence and power that assembled the materials and energy, set off the "big bang," and provided order, complexity, exactness, and precision in the physical universe is called the Creator, the Supreme Being, God, and so on.
     4. As scientists believe that nature is not capricious, and therefor we can expect things we can't measure to behave in ways similar to things we can, it is reasonable to assume that the Creator's world is also a place of order, complexity, exactness, and precision. This is an example of the importance of postulates in science and religion. In order to see to learn truths about the physical world we must assume some things we can't prove. (An example is uniformitarianism -- the proposition that the rules as we now observe them were the same in the past and will be in the future and that therefore we can understand the past and predict the future based on what we observe now.) Similarly, in order to see for truth in spiritual things, we must adopt some basic assumptions or postulates that also can't be proved.
     5. Basic spiritual assumptions or postulates might include: (a) God exists; (b) God has curiosity and interest in what he has created; (c) God knows me; (d) God is at least as compassionate and just as the good people I know.
     6. The truth of these postulates are determined by seeing if the resultes of "experiments" can be best predicted by their adoption. That is, as we experience life, study history, and seek communion with God, is what we find best explained by the acceptance of our postulates?
     7. God is tolerant of our efforts, He's willing to have truth discovered "line upon line, precept upon precept." That is, he doesn't mind that we don't yet know everything about science and religion.
     8. The gospel is truth. All truth is part of the gospel regardless of how the truth has been learned.
     9. The safest course is to work like the dickens and do even more than is required to be done. That's the way I get the most freedom to maneuver.
     10. Most important, the foregoing nine points don't answer ALL the questions. If I take everything I know from the scriptures and the prophets, and everything I know from science, and reconcile them, I still have as many unanswered question as I have ones with answers. No intellectual approach nails down everything. In this life there will always be unanswered questions. In fact, each answer seems to raise more questions. That's the way it is in science too, and I don't apostatize from science for that reason. Actually, that's what makes science, and religion, fun. Faith is feeling good about myself, feeling good about God, and muddling along after truth as best I can.
     11. Finally, perhaps a believer never does more disservice to religion that to support the truth with bad arguments. The listener spots the obvious errors, becomes impatient, often "throws out the baby with the bath," and turns away, even from true religion.


The truth of 1-5 has been confirmed through my life's "experiments" and the church has helped me accomplish this. 6-11 come across to me as an effective philosophy for continuing on and the church supports me in doing so. So I can agree with Dr. Eyring when he states "I am certain that the gospel as taught in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is true. It's a better explanation of what I observe in science that any other I know about. There are still lots of things I don't know, but that doesn't bother me. I'm a happy muddler. The gospel simply asks me to find out what's true as best I can and in the meantime to live a good life. That strikes me as the best formula for living there could be." Me too!

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